Two newly commissioned works, one of which features in a niftily paired double-bill, and a new production of a great classic form the backbone to Opera Queensland’s 2022 program. On top of this mainstage program, there is an expanded Studio Series, a regional tour and the return of the Festival of Outback Opera.
Opera Queensland CEO and Artistic Director Patrick Nolan says that the thinking behind the season is a focus on embracing change: “the fact that we have learned that we can change quickly, and that obviously the evolution of the arts is about reflecting and responding to changes in society. One of the things we have learned over the last two years is how important it is to be willing to change, and to respond to that when the need presents itself. If you look at our season, one of the things that I am responding to is the dialogue around the representation of women, not only on stage but off stage as well. There are a lot of women there.”
The 2022 season opens at the end of March with a newly commissioned work called The Sopranos, written by poet, editor and critic Sarah Holland-Batt. Covering opera from its beginnings in Florence right through to the present day, The Sopranos will examine the dynamic of power and the way women have been represented in opera. The production will be performed by a large cast of singers – among them Deborah Cheetham, Lisa Harper-Brown, Eva Kong, Teddy Tahu Rhodes and José Carbó – and a 48-strong chorus of Queensland-based artists. Nolan co-directs with Laura Hansford and Jessica Gethin conducts the Queensland Symphony Orchestra.
The idea began when Nolan wondered if OQ could create a production that told the history of opera. “Then we realised that that would be as long as the Ring Cycle!” he says with a laugh. “So I invited Sarah Holland-Batt, who’s a really interesting thinker and writer, [to come up with an idea]. We had been introduced through Megan Washington, who we’re developing an opera with as well. Sarah has a passion for opera, so I said, ‘would you be interested in working with us on it?’ and she jumped on it.”
“Through our conversations, we realised that we probably needed to refine the initial goal of trying to capture the history of opera, and one of the conversations that has been very strong in the opera sector is about the role of women, and the representation of women. So that’s where we’re going.”
“So, we’re basically exploring the different archetypes, and Sarah is putting together a narrative that will tie it all together and really celebrate the extraordinary characters that opera has presented us over time, from Dido or Eurydice in the beginning all the way through to Breaking the Waves [the opera by Missy Mazzoli, with a libretto by Royce Vavrek, based on the 1996 film by Lars von Trier]. I can’t say too much now, but we’re thinking of commissioning a new song that will respond to this idea as well.”
Nolan says that they won’t be avoiding the difficult questions around the way women have been depicted in opera. “I think we’ve got to embrace that,” he says. “There’s no pretending that it’s not there, or glossing over it, we’ve got to have that conversation.”
OQ will tour The Sopranos to regional communities throughout 2022.
The second mainstage opera is a new production of Verdi’s La Traviata, directed by Sarah Giles and conducted by Dane Lam. Running in July, it will feature Lorina Gore as Violetta, Kang Wang as her lover Alfredo and José Carbó as Alfredo’s father Germont.
“In the hands of Sarah Giles, I think it will be a very interesting take on it,” says Nolan.
The third mainstage production, in September, is a double-bill presented in association with Brisbane Festival, featuring a new work for a soprano called The Call, composed by Connor D’Netto with Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall.
“Connor is writing the full score and he’s working with Kate on the melodic lines, and the song. Obviously, Kate brings her enormous amount of experience in that area. So, they’re collaborating on that, but Connor is responsible for the orchestration of it, the texture of the work,” says Nolan.
The idea came from Ali McGregor, who will perform the solo piece. She and Nolan had been talking for a while about creating something together. While she was in Brisbane performing in Lorelei she came up with the idea for The Call, which is based on a story that came out of The Moth, which hosts live, open-mic events in cities around the world where people front up to tell a true story.
“The Moth is a storytelling phenomenon really…. It’s quite wonderful,” says Nolan. “This particular story is about a woman who is [talking] about a moment in her life when she was a junkie, down and out. Her husband’s gone out to score, her baby’s crying in the background, and she’s thinking ‘I don’t think I can carry on’. And she remembers that her mother has given her a phone number, and said to her ‘listen, if it ever gets [too much], if you’re ever thinking you’ve got nowhere to go, maybe give this guy a call, I know him, I think he’s really good’.”
“So, she finds the number and gives him a call and has this conversation with this guy who spends the next four or five hours just basically talking her off the edge. And she gets to the end of the conversation and says, ‘Listen, I’m aware that you guys are a Christian organisation or whatever, and I want to say thank you, how can I donate, or how can I give back?’ and he says ‘I’ve been trying to find the time to tell you this, but you rang the wrong number’. It’s just a really beautiful story that talks about compassion and listening. If you listen to someone carefully, you can change their life,” says Nolan.
“She went on to become an academic, and the child that was crying in the background had just graduated from Harvard when she told the story. We’re in touch with the woman who told the story, and she’s given us her permission to do it, so fingers crossed she’ll come to see it when we put it on.”
Nolan has paired The Call with another solo piece, Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine, here called The Human Voice, to be performed by Alexandra Flood.
“Both shows are about a woman on the phone at a very significant moment in their life, and there’s actually a really lovely counterpoint between the two,” says Nolan. “The Poulenc is a fully orchestrated piece, whereas Connor is working with elements of the orchestra; he’s got string and some woodwind, but he’s also got electronics in there and two guitars, so he’s bringing a very contemporary ear to his scoring of it, and I think that will be very interesting [to have] those two different approaches to telling a story in song together. Having the opportunity to see them played side by side will be really great.”
The Call and The Human Voice are directed by Nolan, with Zoe Zeniodi on the podium.
The Opera Queensland Studio Series will return in 2022, with leading singers from opera and contemporary music performing intimate recitals in the Opera Queensland Studio and other, more surprising venues around Brisbane. The performers include Kanen Breen, Mariana Hong, Marcus Corowa and Jess Hitchcock among others.
“It’s been really popular, and it’s brought in a whole lot of different audiences that we wouldn’t have otherwise connected with. So, we just keep expanding it and it’s wonderful,” says Nolan.
The Festival of Outback Opera will return in May 2022 with gala concerts under the stars at Longreach and Winton as well as performances of The Sopranos, pop-up concerts and other community activities. Greta Bradman will be the guest artist, with conductor Dane Lam as the Music Director.
The schools program will take productions of The Frog Prince and La Bohème to primary and secondary schools around the state. The two productions will also have a limited season in Brisbane during the September school holidays, presented in partnership with shake & stir theatre co.
As for the public who love to raise their voices in song, the monthly community singalong will return to the Emporium Hotel South Bank Piano Bar so that people can gather and Sing, Sing, Sing.
More information can be found on the Opera Queensland website.